The effective adoption rate of 3D-capable devices has been insignificant
Your shiny new flat-panel television is most likely capable of displaying images and video in 3D. In fact, your purchase decision was probably swayed by that fact. It’s quite logical to buy a product with a clear intention to future-proof your home entertainment set-up, so that when something like stereoscopic home entertainment, for instance, becomes standard, all you will need to do is pay an exorbitant subscription cost (with added hidden costs) to your cable provider of choice or purchase unreasonably priced BluRay discs of everything from the biggest summer blockbusters to box-sets of entire, up-converted Two And A Half Men seasons, and your home devices will allow you to experience entertainment like never before. Home adoption rate of 3D was supposed to have sky-rocketed several years ago — or more precisely, in the holiday season of 2009, when James Cameron decided to reinvent cinema as we know it. But while the movie business has enjoyed success, with higher ticket prices often justifying the increase in production or conversion costs, home entertainment, by and large, has seen a negligible effective adoption rate. This means that while consumers may own 3D-capable devices, they are not consuming 3D content.
The 3DTV conundrum
The most touted feature in the TV market until recently has been 3D and 2D-to-3D conversion. In previous years, TVs have required its watchers to wear insanely priced, bulky “active” 3D glasses which would need to be individually synchronised to each set. Move out of range, and you’re immediately reaching for the “sync” button in the darkness. “Passive” glasses subsequently removed some of the annoyances, but by then, consumers realised that there wasn’t enough TV-based content on offer. Even ESPN has announced that it will be discontinuing 3D broadcasts by the end of the year due to “low adoption of 3D to home”. Does this mean that not enough people purchased 3D TVs? Or is it just that they had no interest in the content? But then, why do people purchase 3D-capable TVs at all? The answer is simple: they're not given a choice. After a certain price point, “3D” is a part of the tacked-on feature set — just like “24fps” or “Full-HD” were in the past.
Home entertainment devices can never compare to a cinema screen on scale — something that is essential to create immersion in 3D. It’s not that the technology isn’t scalable — it’s just impossible to have an impact, or cause suspension of disbelief in the consumer of 3D content when, firstly, his frame of reference is a cinema screen, and secondly, if the content is delivered “in a box” without encompassing more than a fraction of the viewer’s field of vision. This isn’t just a problem for portable devices such as mobile phones with auto-stereoscopic 3D displays (although theirs is a larger problem altogether), but even the best home theatre configurations with large flat-panel displays or projectors. This doesn’t mean that an immersive 3D experience outside of a movie theatre does not exist. It’s just that you can’t pick out “immersion” from a catalogue or at your nearest consumer electronics store —while it’s virtually guaranteed at the local cinema.
In the palm of your hand
Companies like Sharp, LG and Samsung have, in the past, developed mobile phones which sported auto-stereoscopic parallax barrier (or 3D without glasses) displays, all of which were glorious failures (outside of Sharp enjoying limited success in Japan). Overpricing, limited applications, and gimmicky use of 3D ultimately led to their downfall, with consumers not seeing any tangible benefit from owning such devices. With the exception of Nintendo (with its 3DS variants), there isn’t a single success story of a 3D-enabled portable device, proving once again that innovation that is not backed up by good content isn’t really innovation at all — in the entertainment space, at least. This argument is validated by the rare success of movies such as Avatar and Life of Pi, whose 3D BluRays are often seen topping “best sellers” lists at retailers.
New kids in town
What's next for consumer electronics companies? For starters, “3D” will be relegated to an obscure portion of product specification sheets, effectively making room for the new kids in town; “4K”, “Retina”, “VR-capable” (not for TVs specifically) or other such buzzwords on marketing collateral, preferably to do with visual fidelity, pixels and such (a trend, it would seem). Quadrupling pixel count seems like the easiest way to tell consumers that a product is four times as good, and it just might work.